Row over ‘data theft’ a diversionary tactic

The law minister, who also holds charge of information technology, has been fulminating about summoning Facebook’s founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg to India to explain data theft from his social media platform and the alleged use of such data to influence elections. There is perhaps nothing more risible than this belated threat to haul up a tech titan at a time when big data is playing havoc with the traditional democratic format of political parties. For a nation that has so many problems bringing back its own kind in renegade businessmen who have flown the coop and are refusing to return, such dramatic gestures like summoning head honchos to appear before inquiry commissions and suchlike have a hollow ring.
The political rhetoric over the da ta scandal enveloping the cloak-and-dagger firm of Cambridge Analytica is essentially diversionary. There is nothing in the statutes to have prevented the hiring of a firm like Cambridge Analytica or its subsidiaries and associates. Both leading political parties in India may have in some way used or intended to use their services. The exposures about the firm does, however, point to an evolving mechanism of trying to alter behaviour of a large set of targeted people by the use of behavioural science into acting in certain ways, such as voting for a particular party. Major Indian parties, always afraid of losing their appeal to voters, haven’t been averse to hiring such mechanisms like big data analysis which may not be illegal, but certainly stretch the moral fabric. The Steve Bannon-inspired firm at the heart of the data theft had been quite the dirty tricks department of the Donald Trump poll campaign. But it’s not only Cambridge Analytica that is under the scanner in thesocial media-dominated modern era.
From its inception in college dorms, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook was intended to connect people. Even as a couple of billion users may be assessing Zuckerberg’s mea culpa when intending to take a call on their accounts, where Facebook went wrong is in giving access to user data, even if it was to a researcher. As the data was manipulated in mind control games and probably helped swing a major election, it is the citizens of democracies who are under threat of being devalued by the use of such methodology. Given the laxity of our legal frameworks, such voter or consumer influencing mechanisms are certain to crop up in some form. It will be up to political parties to agree on how to keep such strategies out, although some of them could be rendered obsolescent if they don’t modernise their outreach. The issue assumes salience when major elections are coming up. Populist propaganda and inter-party wrangling are not going to help us in facing up to newer and more complex mechanisms challenging notions of democracy.

via Row over ‘data theft’ a diversionary tactic

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